Friday, December 30, 2011

My Friend Caroline

My friend Caroline has been on my mind lately. I've been lucky enough to correspond with her son and finally get the answers I needed to say good-bye to her.
I met Caroline Creed when I was thirteen or fourteen and we became fast friends. We LOVED boys..Two crazy kids on a mission...go to the movies...boys....go to the movies....boys....and more boys.
Me and Caroline
Don't get me wrong, boys did not flock to us, but that didn't stop us from calling our favorite boys from the privacy of Caroline's bedroom which unlike my bedroom at home, had a telephone. I spent most weekends at Caroline's house because it was a lot of fun being with her. Her house was air-conditioned too. My hair usually curled better at her house, but I didn't know why at the time. Funny thing about the total humidity at my house.  Blind as a bat and hating her glasses, Caroline would only put her glasses on when she really needed to check something or someone out. We had a special place in the movie houses of downtown Jacksonville where Caroline could see the screen without her glasses.  I'm not sure what kind of vision problem she had, but it was bad enough to keep her from reading and seeing so many things that she was always elbowing my side to find out what she was missing. I remember telling her that she looked great in glasses, but she was thoroughly convinced  "Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses."

Her blond hair was thin and difficult to manage and like my own hair, a big can of  Rayette took care of most of our hair problems. She wore her hair in a pageboy and spent quite a bit of time getting her hair just right. She loved Stradivari, a perfume no longer made. It was not an expensive perfume by today's standards, but it usually came to her as a Christmas gift from her parents and was gone by March. She got me hooked on this perfume which I wore all through high school when I could afford it. A year or so ago, I found an old bottle of Stradivari in an antique shop and opened the bottle. That smell still  reminded me so much of Caroline.

Back then, San Jose Boulevard was a two lane road and Caroline's house was on River Hall Drive.  Living only a few doors down from the bus stop on San Jose made it easy for the two of us to hit the road bright and early Saturday morning for our weekly trip to the movies and window shopping downtown.  We had just enough babysitting money to do what we wanted to do.  Downtown Jacksonville was a busy place back then and to Caroline and I it meant freedom. On our own and able to go any place we wanted, we stayed within a three or four block radius of Hemming Park which at that time was the main hub for city buses. To the north of the park was Cohen Brother's, to the west was Woolworth's  and J.C. Penny. On the south side of the park was a Morrison's Cafeteria and to the east was the famous LaRose Shoes, a Huddle House and The Luggage Shop. A few other stores where tucked between these main attractions and a block or two away in one direction was Levy's, Furchgott's, Rosenblum's and Abe Livert Records. In the other direction was Purcell's and Ivey's.  These stores were teenage-girl friendly and the sales ladies at the counters remained the same, always willing to  rosy your cheeks with a touch of rouge or a spritz of the latest Revlon perfume. A few of the sales ladies were mothers of friends of ours and since we frequented the stores as often as possible, they knew us. We were usually planning where to eat lunch or what 45's we would look for at the record store and after completing our rounds, we would head for either the Center or the Florida Theatre which were two of the better movie theaters. We certainly avoided Main Street with it's porn and Army-Navy stores, but frequently we'd head for the Federal Bakery to see if they still had eclairs left or maybe a cupcake we could eat back at the park while waiting for our bus ride home.  Caroline watched her waistline, unlike me.
 If the weather turned bad or the if the timing was right, we would meet her father, Mr. Creed, at his office and wait until he was finished working. To entertain the two of us, Mr. Creed's secretary, Miss Jackie would escort us in to the huge boardroom at Sverdrup & Parcel, sit us down with the latest fashion magazines she had stashed in her desk and give us each a bottle of Coca-Cola and peanut butter crackers to hold us over until Mr. Creed could give us a ride home.  She sat us down in big high back leather chairs to wait  for Mr. Creed. The room smelled just like a cigar humidor which at the time smelled really good.   She checked on us regularly to make sure we still had Coke and crackers. I remember her long red nails and her high fashion look. I really wanted to be her, no doubt about it. Sverdrup & Parcel, a civil engineering firm who according to Wiki was primarily a bridge building company with an impressive history. Some well-known projects of Sverdrup & Parcel include the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel one of the "Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World".  I won't dwell on the 2007 collapsing of the  ill-fated I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis. It was a Sverdrup & Parcel bridge they'ed probably like to unclaim. One minute you were on the bridge, the next minute underwater. Oh dear.

We always had to have our mother's approval on which movie we would be seeing on each trip to town and the movies we usually saw were westerns starring James Stewart or John Wayne.  Caroline had crushes on  both actors, but my vote was always for a Rock Hudson, Doris Day or Sandra Dee movie. It wasn't a concern about getting to the movie when it began .In those days, you just showed up mid-movie and stayed afterwards to see the first half. I often wonder why watching the beginning of the movie after seeing  the shoot 'em out big ending gave you the ultimate cinema experience, but my own family did it and my husband's family used to do it when he was young. I blame it on the city bus schedule. Us girls didn't have the luxury of driving a car to a movie, but our parents did have cars and they did the mid-movie method also. To this day, I will never understand that concept.  Inside the dark movie theaters were neon lit clocks readily visible for those not wanting to miss their bus. Go figure. The bus got there when the bus got there. It had a schedule and  it wasn't ours.
Mr.and  Mrs. Creed, my parents over most weekends for several years, were the best. Being Catholic, they did not eat meat on Friday, but instead gave us kids a boxed Chef BOY-AR-DEE Pizza  kit  and trusted me enough to make the pizza for them, something my own mother hesitated to do. Mrs, Creed, always made a fuss over my 8th grade culinary skills.  There were no pizza deliverers back then. I looked forward to these Friday nights and being with the Creed family. After dinner, Mr. Creed would drive us down the street to the 7-11 to buy some ice-cream for the family dog named Hansel. If I remember correctly, Hansel was an overweight Dachshund who  could lick the ice cream out of those little one serving paper containers without tipping it over or making a mess on the back seat floor board of his car. While the dog was going at his weekly treat with a vengeance, we would sit in the car and watch that dog perform this magic trick and then we'd head back to the the house so Caroline and I could lock ourselves in her bedroom and listen to Beatles music to our hearts content while planning and talking about our future plans with Alex or Mark as if they even knew we were alive.
One of our favorite destinations after school and on Saturday night was the campus of Bolles, at the time, an all boys private boarding school. While at the school for any event, we were not allowed near the living quarters of any of our "boy" fiends. And by "friends", I don't mean real boyfriends. Most of our crushes were in one direction (not ours).  We worked hard at being hard to get, so no wonder true romance eluded us. Both Caroline and I frequented every event possible that girls were allowed to attend. We went to football games, hootenanny's, basketball games, swim meets and the semi-formal dances the school held to celebrate the seasons. Formal invitations were mailed to each girl whose "boy"friend included them on the guest list. My mother would make me a simple semi-formal dress for these dances and my dad would drop us off at Bolles with a dime to call him when we were ready to come home. I was never ready to come home. The breeze off of the river  behind the school was a good way to cool off after dancing a few fast dances. The main lobby of the school that started out as a hotel wreaked of Canoe  and English Leather, the most popular colognes of most junior high kids. I couldn't get enough of the stuff and a lot of girls wore them too. OMG.

After fame
Designer Alexander Julian
Before fame
 One of the boys who was sweet on Caroline was Alex Julian who lived at the  boarding school. An underclassman and not particularly cute in the 9th grade, Alex was from Chapel Hill.. Alex had the best sense of humor of the bunch and grew up to be men's clothing designer Alexander Julian. The other now, but not then, famous person we gawked at was an older Bolles boy, Gram Parsons. Gram was usually headlining a hootenanny in the basketball gym. Parsons is credited with changing the sound of country music, was good buds with Emmy Lou  and  Keith Richards and in some circles, he is now right up there in Rock and Roll heaven with the likes of Ronnie Van Zant, Jimi and Janice. Who knew? With his dreamy eyes and doing his best to have his hair as long as the school would allow, he certainly stood out in the crowd even then as any kid who performed for the student body would. He knew what he wanted very early in his life. Just because I remember him so well, does not mean I knew him by any stretch of the imagination. He was several years older and definitely didn't go for goofy looking 9th graders. I have enjoyed the movies that are out there about the weird after death heist of his dead body that his friends pulled off. Occasionally on IFC "Grand Theft Parsons" tells his story.

We rarely found ourselves in trouble with Mr. or Mrs. Creed. They pretty much had the same rules that my parents did. Caroline was not a wild child and her demure manner and lady-like behaviour made her all the more special to me. We would strive to please both of our parents by going to church  on Sunday morning. Caroline would invite me to go to the Catholic church with her and I always found this an uncomfortable place to be because of my ignorance of any other cultures or religions.  She would nudge me when it was time to kneel and after church, I usually headed home to make a futile attempt at studying or doing my homework that I would forget about immediately after the bell rang after the last class on Friday. Caroline was a much better student than I was and on occasion would give me help with my studies. But when it boiled down to it, studying wasn't something we worried about. More importantly we were concerned with only four things, her hair, my hair, boys and of course, The Beatles.



I can't remember exactly  when Caroline and I parted ways. She learned to drive a car years before I did. My parents would not allow me to ride around in cars with anyone, even Caroline.
My time was consumed with being in the high school band and trying to keep my head above water memorizing music and practicing.  I was devoted to being in the band. Caroline on the other hand needed another friend to pal around with who could ride with her to football games and do the things she enjoyed doing. I still talked to her on the phone  occasionally and saw her in the halls at school. She made  new best friends and so did I. At some point in high school, Caroline's family left Jacksonville and moved to Louisiana. I only saw her once after that and by that time she was married. We had our last conversation on the phone in the mid seventies.
Caroline was one of those special friends in my life who I cannot forget. I would have loved knowing her as an adult.  She is someone I think of when I hear a Beatles song and that is quite often. Her friendship back then meant everything to me. When I am stopped at the light in front of Bolles, I look up in the bleachers of their stadium and remember our  uncomplicated lives.  I can see us sitting there together taking in all of the excitment of the night and afterward standing on the sidewalk waiting for our dads to drive-up and always ask, "How'd it go girls? "Everything Okay?" Having a close friend at that age was everything and our parents gave us just enough  freedom to explore relationships within the confines of a formal living room, trips downtown on our own to the movies and parties with boys at the house.








 When I began to look for Caroline, I found her listed in her mother's obituary after googling her name late one night. Later, I was lucky enough to correspond with her son  and her brother after 35 years. Caroline died in 1992. She had married two years after graduating from high school and was an extraordinary wife and the mother of three children which is exactly what she had always planned to be. Having had heart problems since birth, Caroline had endured several surgeries. She is buried in Arlington, Virginia.
I lost four of my best friends in 1992.  Nancy, Dennis, Carla and Caroline. I loved all of them so much.











Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So You Think I'm A Hoarder?

Okay, so you save things you think you might need one day. I am not a hoarder, but I do have a collections of things I will surely need one day....with the emphasis on "one day". I've got great collections of thread and things like rick-rack and double faced satin ribbon I bought during a going out of business extravaganza. They will be there waiting for me when I finallly need them


Collection of Scissors
I have a few old dollar coins in my glove box in case I run out of gas (like a few coins would even buy enough gas these days to get me to the next gas station). Everyone has extra change in the car, but I have been carrying these dollar coins since the seventies. With each new car I've bought, I've transferred the coins to the new glove box along with other useful things I've carried around in my car for an emergency. Take my vintage sixth grade Girl Scout knife and compass for example. The knife had a bottle and can opener on it and a nice leather punch I might need for some other reason than punching leather. My father found my knife in the glove box and was compelled to sharpen the blade for me. The edge on this knife can cut paper.

I Collect Dust for Scientific Purposes

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Collection of Fabric

Another Collection  -  Thread
Other things I have on hand around the house and in the car would probably awe and amaze you, but being a good Girl Scout, I strive to be always be prepared.I have a collection of newspaper headlines (only if the letters are very big)

While having a marathon phone conversation with my cousin Laurel from Pennsylvania one Sunday morning this past spring,  she mentioned that someone  had stolen the metal  urn from our grandparent's grave and she was so irritated that someone would do such a thing. The marker now sports a gaping hole. The cemetery office offered her few options. Basically, your going to have to hire a full time guard if you have headstone concerns and they were not responsible for stolen grave site items.
So much for that.
 .
When my cousin expressed her anger over the missing urn in Pittsburgh,  I let her know that I just happened to have one of those urns in my garage. That afternoon, I packed the heavy bronze urn that belonged to Lon's father's marker in a flat rate mailing box and shipped it to PA. After the winter was over, my cousin planned to take the urn from Florida over to the cemetery in Monroeville, PA on Memorial Day to see if it would fit into the vacant hole the metal melting thieves left in my grandparent's marker. Not surprisingly, the urn from Florida was a perfect fit. I'm so glad Lon saved that urn. You just never know when you might need a replacement part like that.

Now I wonder and worry about whether I will end up  featured on A&E someday. My husband believes that if it wern't for him, I would. Of course, I disagree. Those people have lost it for sure and I feel their pain.  At least, I try to have things presentable for the Orkin man. But it is not easy. It seems to be part of my inability to control compulsive behavior and I am the only one who can remedy this situation. 
.
What causes me to save things for the future?
I didn't grow up like this, In fact, my parents had only one of those stacks of things that grew slowly out of control under one of our end tables. We just waited until it would no longer stay stacked before we went through it and threw the LIFE and TIME Magazines in the trash. We did have one of those kitchen drawers that collected things like egg separaters and odd cooking utensils my mother had carried around all of her life. I think it's important to have a drawer to rummage through.

I am in the process of getting ready to move 27 years of stuff into a new house. As I stare at my collections of "stuff" I wonder how I am ever going to make the the move into the new house.  I am going to make the most of my new sewing space and wonderful kitchen cabinets. I am not going to have anymore tupperware avalanches or brooms falling out of the closet on my head. I am going to have my shoes put away, my clothes hung neatly and I am going to awe and amaze my friends and family.I am turning over a new leaf and begin a new way of living. I promise.

Meantime, if you need anything like warped records, a new purse,  bon-bon dishes, elastic, velcro, pins, beads, old matchbooks or cookbooks from days of yore,  come on over and lighten my load.

Just stay clear of my fabric. I am saving that for beautiful quilts to come.

Tee-Shirt Quilts

You have or used to have dozens of them. I’m talking about tee-shirts.  Whether you are male or female, you owned that ribbed neck tee-shirt that was too tight or  full of holes. Maybe the length of the shirt wasn’t long enough or invariably, a big blob of SOMETHING ruined your favorite shirt, but you wore it anyway.  I cannot count the number of tee-shirts I have either worn or run through the needle of my sewing machine.

Can't you just see me in this now?
I used to have a t-shirt for every play I worked on at The Players-by-the-Sea Community Theatre. The other collection of shirts I had came from Weight Watchers or a sales campaign that AT&T was promoting. I rarely bought a shirt at a concert, but did have one with those big Mick Jagger lips from a Rolling Stones concert at the Gator bowl. I always felt so conspicuous when I wore that shirt. I ended up giving it away to another Stones fan I worked with.  When I was a younger 36-28-38 I loved and wore my tee-shirts to bed, to work and especially to the beach over my bikini (yes, I wore and made them for myself too). My tee-shirts showed off my slim arms, sometimes made a statement and I kept every one of them until they rotted off the metal hangers they hung on.
  
Neil's Harley Davidson Shirt Collection

My own personal all-time favorite tee-shirt was a pink shirt with a yellow stripe down the back from the Player’s production of Kurt Vonnegut’s play “Happy Birthday, Wanda June”.  I worked on the lights and sound from the balcony control room on that play and each time I wore that shirt, I was reminded of that romantic, eye-opening experience. It was the tee-shirt I held on to the longest and the hardest to let go.  I moved them from apartment to apartment and washed my car with them when they had had it. They were most handy as dust rags, not that I would really know about that.  I’ve tie-dyed, designed my own, silk screened, sold them, handed them out to the masses and now I cut them up and make quilts out of them for those moms and dads who have saved and preserved most all of their kid’s tees from camp, school, church or from  their own  Harley Davidson adventures.

Shirts from Denver found their way to
me via the Internet. These are on the
 floor in the "figuring out what to do" design phase.

I’ve found out that tee-shirt quilts are the quilts that everyone loves but it’s hard to find a good woman to make them. I fill a niche by being one of the hand full of women in Jacksonville who will make them. The quilt shops aren’t interested in making them and luckily they send the jobs my way. Word of mouth has also beaten a path to my door. Oddly enough, making this kind of quilt is more popular than ever and I guess it could be considered “green”. Oh yea. It is recycling. The demand for women who make them is large enough that I usually have a job come my way at least monthly and graduation time is the busiest.

So what do you do when you can’t part with your old shirts? You wash them, fold them neatly and send them to me.  I slash them in to squares, sew them together and make a great quilt.  You can cuddle up under one and remember all those earth day events you attended, the championships you won, the causes you believed in, the guy who ran for office and the food that missed your mouth.
There was a time when young girls (like me) didn't even own a tee-shirt. My brother wore tee-shirts and all the kids playing out in the street wore tee-shirts, but they almost always had horizontal stripes on them and came from J.C. Penney. If only my Mom had preserved those Davy Crocket tee shirts in acid free paper. Back then, shirts rarely had an advertisement or hilarious social commentary printed on them except maybe the Izod alligator who came into play for Dad’s taste in cotton knit.. Boys were not allowed to wear tee-shirts to high school and seeing a man on the street in the fifties sporting a plain white tee usually meant he worked  under the hood of a car, hung out at a gas station or was in the Navy. Basically you were wearing your UNDERWEAR as OUTERWEAR.
Marlon
James Dean
No pockets-no problem. You just tucked those cigs in your sleeve and rolled them up neatly. Carrying objects in your sleeve had a two-fold purpose: 1) it made a great makeshift pocket and 2) it showed off gorgeous biceps like those of Marlin Brando, Paul Newman and James Dean, all tee-shirt icons and notable cigarette smokers. My Dad always wore a sleeveless, collarless “undershirt” with his dress shirts. When I was eight or nine years old, I  had the job of removing his starched and pressed dress shirts from the cardboard boxes that they came back from the dry cleaner in and I would stack them neatly in his shirt drawer. I also folded and put away his undershirts after my mother finished ironing them. My husband and son have always done their own laundry and would be hard pressed to visualize me ironing any one's underwear. In my eyes, this qualifies my mother easily for sainthood.

What wearing an undershirt can do for a man.
My Dad never wore tee-shirts where you could see them, but he did wear them as undershirts that guaranteed his crisply ironed Van Huesen would remain that way all day and it was the sign (and still is) of a well-dressed man.  A men’s fashion website advises: “Be sure to wear a short-sleeve, white T-shirt under your shirts and sweaters. Not only does this protect your tops from sweat and deodorant stains, it makes you look adult-y and fashion-y”. I happen to agree whole heartedly.  I don’t use underwear in the quilts I create, so please don’t ask me to. I will however, include cut up bathing suits, photos transferred to fabric and most any other kind of memento you have that can be ironed and sewn.. 

Getting back to the quilts....

When someone brings me a collection of tee-shirt to turn into a quilt, I am tickled to death and I am the perfect person for the job. Making a few extra bucks for doing what I love is about as good as it gets.
My fee is $.08  per square inch plus the materials  and this has turned out to be a good formula so far.  As I cut out each shirt and piece it to the next shirt, my sewing machine runs over a 50/50 cotton-poly memory that deserves a proper burial. While sewing certain tee-shirts that have come my way, I imagine all sorts of things. I think about a Bob Dylan concert or someone else’s trip to Peru and vision myself participating in a walk for Aids or the marathon I’ll never be able to run. Many of the the quilts are intended as graduation gifts as I receive most of my calls to “create” towards the end of May. That’s cutting it a little short since graduations are usually in early June. Some deadlines I just can’t meet so I have had to turn jobs down in the past. To remedy this, I recruited my two closest and dependable quilting friends to help out. Having worked for the phone company, I did pick up a desire to please my customers and I get my customers involved in where each block is placed since they know best which shirt should be front and center and which ones can be eliminated totally. Everyone takes all this very seriously and I’m no exception.

My son has some great tee-shirts. One says, “I like my women like I like my coffee…ground up and in the freezer. “ My other favorite of his says, “I’m in my own little world….but don’t worry, they know me there”. He has a wonderful sense of humor. I would guess his favorite tee-shirt is a black and yellow “Black Cow Manure” shirt. Gotta love it.


In Memory of Carmen
This past October, I was called upon by a loving father to create two quilts, one for each of his children. The clothing belonged to their mother and the plan was to have the quilts ready for Christmas. This will be the first Christmas this family will be without her. A beautiful woman who was a Navy nurse for 26 years, passed away and as with all family deaths, someone has the special job of disposing the clothing that adorned and in a small way defined their wife and mother. The father wanted something extra special for his children to have. The vacations they shared as a family, the comfy pj’s worn around the breakfast table on a Sunday morning and the well worn shirts saved for the beach or working in the garden…they were all there…These special bits and pieces were mine now to make a memory for them. I guarded them like gold and put my creative side into action hopefully to return to the father a gift of love he can proudly give to his children. It was an honor for me to make this thoughtful momento.  Snuggling up under a quilt made from my own mother’s clothes is something I will never be able to do. I wish I had thought of doing this back when I was going through her closet. Instead, her clothes were given to a favorite aunt with the remainder going to Good Will. 

Sadly, after delivering a finished quilt, I am out of the picture. I never get to see the reaction of the receiver at their graduation party or witness the inevitable tears when someone looks over a quilt of favorite shirts from days past or the shirts that belonged to a loved one who is no longer with them. Oh well, maybe someday.
Meanwhile, I’ll be cutting and sewing that cotton knit that has woven itself into the American culture and into my sewing life.  I enjoy every minute of trying to make them all fit together.